Monday, 31 October 2011

Hierarchy is bullshit

Ever thought about why we need bosses? I have, and I've never been able to understand why we need them. What are bosses for other than to earn more than us and tell us what to do? But we don't need anyone to tell us what to do, and we certainly don't need them to earn more than we do!

So why do we have them? Because it's a great way of maintaining control and a great way of making us accept that we are worth less than we actually are. Now I guess some of us have worked for an inspirational boss at one time or another. But for every good boss, there must be a least a dozen poor ones. They tend to range from the ones who just aren't up to it to those who are careerists, desperate to climb the greasy pole, who see each job as a stepping stone to the top, and of course, some are just downright bullies.

So why do we put up with them? I'm not a psychologist but it's not too difficult to see why. We are socialised into it. As children we look up to our parents - the 'grown-ups' who comfort and protect us. Then we go to school and are trained to accept the authority of another grown up - the teacher.

When we finish education we are usually starting on the bottom rung of the ladder in a large organisation. We accept that those who've been there longer than us and have more experience and prestige. So it seems natural that we defer to them. But is it? Respect should be earned - not taken for granted.

The system works well for those at the top as we have seen recently in the banking debacle. These top bods claim they are special people. Without them businesses and organisations wouldn't be run properly - but were the banks run properly? More recently we have seen Mark Thompson, Director General of the BBC, floundering over the Ross and Brand debacle. Do we seriously think that no one could have handled it better? I doubt it.

So why do we tolerate these people? - especially when there is plenty of evidence that we just don't need them. Let's go back to the start of this century when there was an economic crisis in Argentina. Years of corruption and privatisation lead to a run on the banks. While the rich took their money and ran, ordinary Argentinians were left in the lurch, unable to access their bank accounts. Businesses went bust, and in many cases bosses just abandoned their businesses, making the workers jobless.

But many of the jobless refused to give up - they took over the abandoned businesses and kept them going. Many are still successful today and still owned as worker co-operatives. Not all successful co-operative businesses start in this way though. The US company W L Gore and Associates is very successful, and it doesn't have any bosses. Don't believe me? Then read this article. You'll probably know the company because it makes Gore-Tex. In fact the company topped the UK Sunday Times "100 Best Companies to Work For" list for 4 consecutive years, 2004–2007.

The hierarchy that surrounds us is manufactured bullshit. There is nothing natural or desirable about it. It is maintained because it suits the purposes of those at the top who cream off the wealth from society and require us to accept less as a consequence. Attacks on this system are described as sour grapes or envy - but they would be wouldn't they? It's not envy to want social and economic justice and to rid ourselves of a 'class' of people who add no value to our lives but benefit from our labour and acquiescence to their authority.

Postscript: I don't usually add anything to a posting but there is an interesting article on the front page of Guardian Work today by Don Tapscott about inter-generational attitudes to hierarchy that is worth reading. I searched the website but couldn't find it so I can't make a link. here is a brief quote:

"Too many organisations are still stuck in the old unproductive hierarchy, which divides worlds into the governors and the governed. Most people above the age of 40 accept this..... The goal in a hierarchy is to move up, and have more people reporting to you"

Don believes that the 'net generation' have a different attitude to hierarchy - let's hope he is right.

We need to end the dependency culture of the 1%

You'll often hear the 'free' market fundamentalists on the reactionary right of politics complaining about the 'entitlement culture' and the 'dependency culture'. What they mean is that people, usually unemployed, believe that they are entitled to benefits, or handouts from taxpayers, and that they become dependent on them. The result is that these people either never feel the need to work for a living, or have become almost incapable of finding work. The approach of our reactionary coalition government is well summed up in this article from The Sun, which crows about the government's plans to:
"smash the dependency culture that condemns millions to a life on the dole"
But its not the dependency culture that condemns people in the UK to a life on the dole, its the failed ideology of neoliberalism and the economic policies of privatisation and deregulation which have destroyed jobs in the UK over the past 30 years. So what do the reactionary right do? Blame the victims of course! Since the failures of 'free' market capitalism can never be admitted, it is essential that the blame is dumped onto individuals like the 'benefit scroungers', who have been made scapegoats for the UK's economic problems.

A depression era dole queue

Papers like the Daily Mail and The Sun promote the denigration and hatred of the benefit recipients as a distraction from the real cause of our country's problems - neoliberalism and Thatcherism. The aim is not just to shift the blame, but also to move the UK from a system of decent social security provision to a grossly inadequate system of welfare 'handouts'. This not only allows savings for greater tax cuts for the rich, but also helps to grind the underclass even further into poverty, creating a pit into which people fear to fall, thus making them more likely to work for less.

But its not the so-called 'benefit scroungers' that we need to be angry about. Its the really big cheats in our society, the tax dodgers, who should be causing us concern. There really is a serious problem with entitlement and dependency cultures throughout the world. Its the dependency of the 1% on ever increasing wealth to the detriment of the rest of us, and its the culture of entitlement which the 1% have which makes them think they should own everything on the planet, and not have to pay taxes. If we are going to have a fair and socially just society we need to end the entitlement culture and dependency culture of the 1%.

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Plan B endorses the Green Party's measures to revive our economy

On the 6th of October 2011, Green Party leader, Caroline Lucas called for a programme of green quantitative easing (QE) to revive our economy at a time when the Bank of England was announcing a plan to waste £75 billion on a QE programme of handing over money to banks. I blogged about this on the 10th October, and talked about how the Green Party had proposed green QE measures as part of a Green New Deal approach in our 2010 manifesto. The measures include a massive programme to create one million green jobs and a citizens pension to help lift pensioners out of poverty.

The Bank of England's QE plan is not the answer

In today's Observer there is a call by 'leading' economists for the government to adopt a Plan B approach which would include many of the measures we have been talking about for the past few years. Bizarrely enough, in the article, Tory MP Jesse Norman is given the credit for getting the Plan B ball rolling by stimulating Neal Lawson of Compass to act. According to the Observer:
For all the constant griping about the government's policies, and a despondency over the perceived flaws of Osborne's austerity prescription, Neal Lawson, chair of the centre-left pressure group Compass, had to admit to himself that they were nowhere.

"When Jesse said that I just thought, yep, we need to stop just talking about this stuff and get down to sorting out an alternative plan," Lawson said.
Of course if Lawson had bothered to pick up our manifesto he wouldn't have needed Norman or his group of economists to formulate his Plan B. But the good news is that he and his centre-left colleagues are now beginning to catch up with Green Party policy.

Such are the perils of being a minority party. It would have been nice if a few journalists could have been bothered to listen to what we were saying at the last election, and also to Caroline's recent views on green QE. At least now it is beginning to look like the non-green left is moving in the right direction. If we can work together with others on the left, the anti-cuts groups, such as UKuncut,  and the trade unions we may be able to put enough pressure on this government to make it change course. The November 30th pensions action is the next big event, lets help to make that a day of action to stop the government's austerity programme and bring about positive change.

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Yes to a referendum on the EU!

According to Paul Cotterill on the Liberal Conspiracy blog Caroline Lucas, the leader of the Green Party,  has outflanked Labour on the issue of a referendum on the EU. He is right. Outflanking a gauche and leaden-footed Labour leadership isn't difficult these days. Labour is completely hamstrung by its New Labour legacy, and because of its complicity in privatisation and austerity it is incapable of challenging the most dangerously reactionary government in a century.

Caroline said: "I support a referendum on our membership of the EU because I am pro-democracy, not because I'm anti-EU - and because I want to see a radical reform of the way Europe operates. The EU has the potential to spread peace and make our economies more sustainable, and to promote democracy and human rights, at home and throughout the world. But it must urgently change direction, away from an obsessive focus on competition and free trade and towards placing genuine co-operation and environmental sustainability at its heart."

Caroline has called this exactly right. We need to challenge the lack of democratic accountability and neoliberalism of the EU. Most people don't want us to leave, but this is a Europe of austerity, dominated by the ECB. The way the Greeks and Irish have been humiliated is appalling, and all to bail out French and German banks. That is unacceptable. We need start a movement to liberate the EU from the dead hand of neoliberal failure, and make sure that the Green Party is at the forefront of that movement.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

The free market fundamentalists are the purveyors of our poverty

I like to describe neoliberals as 'free market' fanatics or 'free market' fundamentalists. I always put the 'free market' bit in italics because there really is no such thing as a free market, and never has been. The 'free market' concept is a crucial part of the flawed ideology of neoliberalism, which is an extreme right-wing ideology that favours the rich - the capitalist class, over the rest of us. An important part of the reason why neoliberalism has been so successful is that it has successfully disguised itself as 'economics', an economics which pretends to be a mechanism for prosperity and has been sold to us as good for everyone.

We have been told by economists and politicians that the tenets of neoliberalism i.e. - globalisation; 'free' trade; privatisation; low taxes; downsizing; outsourcing; and deregulation are essential economically and that without them, we cannot have a prosperous and successful society. But prosperous and successful for who? All the aforementioned things benefit the capitalist class, at the expense of the rest of society. That is how they have gone from being the rich to the super-rich over the past 35 years or so, and these are the mechanisms by which the 1% have left the 99% way, way behind.

The simple fact is that the outcome of this neoliberal ideology, driven by the capitalist class, with the support of Western politicians, is a direct transfer of wealth from the 99% to the 1%. As wages have fallen as a percentage of GDP, profits and income for the rich have risen - see here for the recent US figures. The super rich don't need social security, they don't need healthcare, they don't need state education like the rest of us, so their view is - 'why should I pay for any of that through my taxes'? In fact, 'why should I pay taxes at all'? Furthermore, thanks to globalisation, if they can pay someone in the Third World $1 an hour to make widgets, why should they pay you, as a worker, in Europe or the USA, $10 an hour to do the same job?

But we still live in a consumer-capitalist economy, so as wages have fallen as a percentage of GDP, the 99% have accumulated more and more debt, with the help and encouragement of capitalist lenders, in order to try and maintain their lifestyles, and this is part of the debt crisis, and the economic crisis we are now in. Because if people in 'wealthier' Western countries can't afford to buy the products of capitalism, and are saddled with debt, the consumer-driven economy is bound to be depressed, which is exactly what is happening now. The 'free market' fanatics through the mechanisms of privatisation etc. are therefore purveyors of poverty, through lower wages, unemployment and austerity for us, the 99%.

In addition to the problems of the current banking debt crisis, which was caused by deregulation of the banks and financial capitalism, there is the longer-term problem for capitalism of the falling rate of profit. It has been noted by many observers that capitalism is uniquely versatile and able to re-invent itself when faced, as it always is, by periodic crises. If capitalism reaches a barrier it will find a way round it. So, the big driver for privatisation is the need for capitalist corporations to maintain their profitability, because having exhausted much of the possibilities of the private sector, through globalisation, they are now intent on devouring the public sector in the search for new profitability and never ending growth.

For the 99%, healthcare, education, pensions, housing and social security are essential. Healthcare and education are public goods - not commodities to be bought and traded like widgets. We need social security as a right, paid for through national insurance - not welfare as some kind of handout. We need social housing and pensions so that we can retire with some dignity in our old age. All these public services are best paid for through taxes, collectively, and delivered without the profit motive, for the benefit of all. If we want public services and pensions we need to pay taxes. Low taxes are only good for the 1%, and are bad for the rest of us. In addition to paying more taxes ourselves, we need to make the rich pay much more in taxes, as a prelude to permanent economic change.

Until very recently, we had all of these essential public services mentioned above here in the UK. Now the capitalist class are trying to take them away from us, they are trying to to roll back all the democratic gains our grandparents, and parents made in the 20th century. The banking crisis is being used as an excuse to pay for the failures of neoliberalism through austerity. It is essential that we resist privatisation and cuts in public services by supporting each other, and supporting the occupations, local anti-cuts organisations, student protests, and all the diverse community groups in their ongoing struggle against austerity, and the trade unions in their planned strike action on November 30th.

Last weekend, on 15 October, global demonstrations were held to show the growing discontent of the 99%, and as a result a video was produced - see below, and a manifesto, which is worth reading, and may be the start of global demand for change.

The many thousands of people involved in the occupation movements and protests which are now happening in 900 cities across the world are rightly suspicious of politicians, political parties, and ideologies. They must be able to determine their wants and their own destiny. But ultimately what they need are the things we all need, the public services which I have outlined above, plus work, and freedom of expression, and freedom from fear. What is clear is that they can only achieve their aims by breaking the stranglehold that 'free market' neoliberalism has on our economy and democracies, and to regain control over their lives they must seize control of the economy and make the global economy their economy.

Only when we control our economy will we have the freedom and dignity we all desire and need.

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Tories and sociopaths

Its been a bad week as far as this government is concerned, but we have learnt something very important, that this is a government of cranks and oddballs. First up for this week we have had the resignation of the arch -Thatcherite Defence Secretary Liam Fox, because of his bizarre relationship with his friend Adam Werrity. The mind boggles that anyone in a position of power and trust could just invite his chum to tag along on foreign trips and meetings with foreign politicians to discuss defence issues. But this is the Tories that we are talking about, so while Adam was tagging along, there were, of course, fat salaries and five star hotels, all paid for by their businessmen buddies.

Next, we have Oliver Letwin, another Thatcherite and special advisor to David Cameron who was photographed wandering round a park in London tossing correspondence from his constituents into the waste bins! I'm sure the people who had written to him were well impressed. This was followed by 'man of the people' Ian Duncan Smith, losing it and ranting because the Child Poverty Action Group had the temerity to challenge his plans for the capping of housing benefit, which will lead to social cleansing in London with up to 9,000 families being forced to leave their homes.

And in the same week, Jamie Oliver has rightly condemned the Health Secretary Andrew Lansley's obesity strategy as "worthless, regurgitated, patronising rubbish". Because Lansley's strategy is basically to blame obesity on the fat. Is he just daft? No, being a Tory he is a friend of money and the big food corporations.  When it comes to profits the health of the nation is a long way second. The food corporations encourage people to eat processed food containing high amounts of salt and sugar. They are like the tobacco companies and its about time they were treated the same way.

The point is that there is a pattern here. This is a government of reactionary cranks. Tory ministers are simply not the ordinary 'men in the street' that they would like the rest of to believe they are. They are either wealthy people from privileged backgrounds, who have never had to apply for a proper job, or people who support and aspire to privilege, and people who see no problem with there being vast inequalities in society, as long as they and their loved ones have their snouts firmly in the trough. They are a curious blend of the public schoolboy and second hand car salesman, people who know the price of everything and the value of nothing. People who are quite happy to impose poverty and hardship on others through £81 billion worth of cuts which will hit the most vulnerable people in society the hardest, and cut health services for the rest of us. I suspect that many of them are probably sociopaths.

The profile of a sociopath is too complex to describe here but if you can take time to examine this definition, reflect on the qualities of the people in power I have mentioned, including David Cameron, and see for yourself if you think they fit the profile. Here are some rules to help you deal with sociopaths when you meet them, because you undoubtedly will.

Monday, 10 October 2011

Quantitative easing, and how to help to avoid the big crash

Just after the Tory party conference, which ended last week, we were told that the Bank of England had introduced a new round of quantitative easing (QE) in the UK  to the tune of £75 billion. This is throwing bad la la money after bad.The bad is the £200 billion already wasted on QE to little effect on the UK economy so far, except perhaps as an increase in inflation. The la la, is that it is made up money which comes from nowhere, so it might as well come to you and me, and I'm not joking, because if it did, that really would lift off our economy. But we all know that is not going to happen. The iron law of capitalism is - "To those that have shall be given".

What we have with this economic crisis is the perfect storm, which was described by Governor of the Bank of England, Mervyn King, in the link above, as:
"There is not enough money. That may seem unfamiliar to people." [he told Sky News.] "But that's because this is the most serious financial crisis at least since the 1930s, if not ever."
All of which makes our current situation potentially worse than the Great  Depression. This is because; we still have a huge amount of debt in the system; we have nation states (like Greece) bust; we have bust banks; and all the economic levers, including record low interest rates, and QE, have been pulled, both here and in the USA. So there's nowhere left to go - not as far that is, as neoliberal economics is concerned - see Larry Elliot's article in the Guardian.

On top of all this, now we hear that yet another bailout of European banks is planned by Sarkozy and Merkel in the EU. This will cost at least £200 billion, but the EFSF could go up to €2 trillion. But  hang on..... where is all this money coming from? Why, from you dear taxpayer, you and your children, and your children's children will have to fork out at least that amount, and possibly more, to bail out commercial banks. And yet, this really is the plan - a kind of madness.

The Guardian have summarised the current situation in their Eurozone graphic - see below:

The Eurozone crisis - source: The Guardian
So what is the answer? Not more QE, that is for sure, and no more bank bailouts. The state has done its bit, now it is time for the market to bear all of the costs of the debt in the system. That sure will hurt bad, it wont be easy for anyone, but it is the only solution. The major banks must be nationalised and the rest written off. Then the nationalised banks need to be turned into national investment banks (with some mutualised). We then need a sustained burst of Green QE, starting with the Green New Deal.The Green Party plan is to start by investing £44 billion in creating one million green jobs, a far better investment than QE. There is much more to be done, including building renewable energy sources, and affordable housing, and a citizen's pension, but this is only  the start. If you want to know more, take a look at our manifesto here.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

There is a solution for the 99%

Growing economic inequality in the USA, and throughout the West, is something that I have commented on before in this blog, and it is well documented. The incomes of middle class Americans have been stagnant or falling since the 1970's whilst those of the capitalist class have been growing. According to Rupert Cornwell in today's Independent:
"Income disparities are wider than at any time since the Wall Street crash of 1929, and almost 50 per cent of financial wealth in the US is now in the hands of 1 per cent of the population."
The American middle classes are really suffering the impact of 30 years of neoliberalism, and the effects of the financial crash, which began with the sub-prime mortgage scandal. Its important to make a distinction because 'middle class' means something different in the USA and the UK. In the UK, the middle classes are well-off professionals such as doctors and lawyers, whereas in the USA the term 'middle class' includes working families that would be described as 'working class' in the UK. Middle class Americans are crucial to the USA because they are at the heart of America.

Because the USA has always had privatised healthcare and higher education and a weak welfare system, the American middle classes have always lead a potentially precarious existence. If you get ill, you get large health bills, if you can't work because of your illness you can lose your job and your house. In a short space of time you could go from a fairly comfortable lifestyle to being out on the street. In the past the US economy has been strong enough to ensure that this didn't happen to most Americans. That is no longer the case. Millions of Americans are now finding themselves in a situation where they are living hand to mouth, knowing that if they lose their job they will lose everything they had. They are living in fear of joining the millions of families who have already suffered this fate.

We are the 99% is a website which documents the fears and suffering of middle class Americans. Many of these people are hanging on just one paycheck away from disaster and shouldering thousands of dollars of debt.

This photo is typical of the plight of people on We are the 99%
We are the 99%, like occupywallst, which I have been following from its start in mid September, is a reaction against the bailout of Wall Street, and growing poverty, unemployment and economic inequality. The Tea Party was also a reaction to the bailout which came largely from the middle class right and which was rapidly absorbed, manipulated and funded by the capitalist class as I reported here:
"That is what the Tea Party is all about. Millions of Americans are angry, bewildered and frustrated at the recent crash and the fact they aren't getting richer anymore. But there is a huge problem here - they are directing their anger against the wrong enemy. The people who caused the crash - the financial capitalists and corporations of Wall Street aren't being blamed. Instead, the anger is being directed at the government." 
Unlike the Tea Party, the occupywallst movement is really about social justice. It is a recognition that the growing inequality has to be reversed, and that the neoliberalist policies pursued by successive governments have failed the American people. As yet the movement appears to be leaderless and doesn't have a coherent programme and specific demands for change. But it is growing and spreading to other cities in the USA. It is beginning to cause concern to politicians like Obama, who have begun to take notice.

What should the demands of the occupywallst movement be? Well, it's not for me to say, but if you read about the problems of the 99% the solutions are fairly obvious. What Americans need is freedom from fear through access to jobs and public provision - in health, education and social security. These are things that we have in the UK, but we are in the process of losing, due to the Coalitions government's austerity programme, if we don't fight for them. Like us, Americans need a Green New Deal to provide jobs and tackle climate change, they need a properly funded system of public healthcare and higher education. What they need is social security as a right, not welfare as a handout.

One of the greatest of Americans tried to ensure that Americans had all these things but was unable to complete his project before he died. His name was Franklin D. Roosevelt and he enshrined the freedom from fear in his economic second Bill of Rights. His bill of rights is what the American middle classes need. The occupywallst movement don't need to invent a programme because they already have a ready made one, now they have re-discover it and fight for it.

Saturday, 8 October 2011

March for the alternative at the Tory conference

Last Sunday, along with 35,000 other people I marched in Manchester to protest against the austerity measures being inflicted on the British people by the Coalition government. The march started and finished up at First Street, and was characterised by good humour and a feeling of solidarity on what was a very mild and largely sunny October afternoon.

Most of the marchers were trade unionists, with members from Unison, Unite, The GMB, NUT and PCS, mixing with other protest groups. The Green Party was represented mainly by members from Manchester, Carlisle and the Green Left, and a coach came from Chester from our local campaign, Cheshire West Against the Cuts, which is supported by West Cheshire Trades Council.

One of the biggest issues for the marchers was the attack on public sector pensions. The Tories and their corporate backers, aided by cheerleaders in the right wing press, have managed to drive a wedge between public and private sector workers on the pensions issue. Public sector workers, many of whom are low paid and can expect a pension of only £3,000 per year, have been vilified as 'fat cats', whilst private sector workers have seen their pensions slashed. If the government succeeds in destroying pension provision for the public sector that will make it all the harder to bring back decent pensions for those in the private sector. Public and private sector workers need to support each other on this issue, otherwise millions more will be condemned to poverty in their old age. The Green Party sought to address the pension crisis in its 2010 manifesto by introducing a citizens pension of £300 p.w. for a couple and £170 p.w. for a single person.

The public sector unions are balloting their members for industrial action on pensions to start on November 30th. Its important that all working people support this struggle because it could be the pivotal point where the public really turn against the Coalition government's austerity programme, which is already becoming more unpopular. Cameron is well aware of this and his lacklustre speech at the Tory conference shows that the government is stuck in a hole of its own making with no plan B, rising unemployment, a flatlining economy, and no real idea of how to move the country forward. Never has the alternative I've argued for in this blog been more sorely needed - see here.